Although I'll be spending most of my time at Stereophile reviewing affordable gear, I will from time to time examine so-called "trickle-down" designs from high-end designers who have made their mark in the upper-price echelons. More and more, such designers are taking what they've learned and applying it to less-expensive products in order to broaden their customer base. Cary Audio Design, for example, of single-ended triode fame, has entered the ring with the SLM-100 pentode monoblocks.
We audio writers have our niches. Mikey loves analog, Artie likes to play with horn speakers and assorted oddball British kit, and I really enjoy reviewing affordable speakers. There's something exciting about hearing the fruits of the labors of a creative designer who's applied his talents to meet a stringent price point and created a speaker that can entice into our hobby the financially challenged music lover.
Audiophile societies are frequently sources of interesting new equipment to review. Recently, trolling New York's Audiophile Society, I discovered a tremendous buzz about the Onix Reference 1 Mk.II, an affordable bookshelf speaker from AV123. Founded by Audio Alchemy cofounder Mark Schifter, AV123 is a Colorado-based manufacturer and retailer that specializes in affordable audio gear, mostly speakers and electronics, which it sells exclusively over the Internet with a 30-day money-back guarantee. AV123's factories in China and Colombia design, manufacture, and distribute speakers under the brand names Onix, X-Series, and Rocket, and, I am told, also make speakers for a number of other companies. If the name Onix rings a bell, this former UK brand has long been known for its dedication to making affordable audio gear. AV123 bought Onix from the Rogers speaker company more than 10 years ago.
In the March 2008 Stereophile (Vol.31 No.3), I wrote favorably about the A-50T integrated amplifier from the Chinese company Cayin Audio. I was very impressed with its sound, appearance, and construction quality for the price: $1295. This positive experience led me to look into what other products Cayin's importer, VAS Industries, distributes here. More often than not, when a keen ear imports an interesting product into the US, that ear has also heard the good sounds of other products, as attested by the diverse product lines of distributors such as Music Hall and Sumiko. It turns out that VAS distributes Chinese loudspeakers made by Aurum Cantus, including seven two-channel models. I chose the entry-level design, the two-way V2M bookshelf speaker ($1890/pair), which combines a ribbon tweeter with a dynamic mid-woofer cone.
I got a call a while back from Stephen Mejias (Stereophile('s Sancho Panza to John Atkinson's Don Quixote), who informed me that Aperion Audio had redesigned their entire line of loudspeakers, and suggested that I check them out. I had responded very favorably to Aperion's Intimus 533-T, which I reviewed in the April 2007 issue. I loved the speaker's sound, the sexy appearance, and felt it was good value at $750/pair. And I thought Aperion's 30-day free trial with free shipping each way was a deal that few could resist. So when this factory-direct, Oregon-based company informed me that they'd updated the drivers and crossovers across their entire speaker line, I decided to give a listen to their new flagship, the Intimus 6T ($1390/pair).
Fearless leader called me and asked if I'd be interested in reviewing the Simaudio Moon i-1 ($1500), the entry-level integrated amplifier in Simaudio's Classic line. Hmmm. I'd been very impressed by all of the more expensive Simaudio products I'd heard at Stereophile's Home Entertainment shows over the years, and the 50Wpc Moon i-1 would be an interesting match for the affordable speakers I've had in-house lately. Send it on, JA!
These are the first interconnects and speaker cables I have reviewed for Stereophile. Each of us has his little niche, and editor John Atkinson likes us to play in the sandboxes we most enjoy. For me, that has usually meant inexpensive speakers and expensive tube electronics. But there's another reason I've tended to shy away from cables.
I always enjoy reviewing affordable loudspeakers from Polk Audio, who trumpet high value for the dollar with their philosophy of "Incredible Sound/Affordable Price." They also update their broad and deep product lines more frequently than do most manufacturers. I've always been intrigued by how much Polk has been able to deliver at the bottom of the price range. In fact, the first Polk speaker I reviewed, the RT25i (September 2001, Vol.24 No.9), is the only affordable speaker I've reviewed for Stereophile that I ended up buying (for my computer-based musical-composition system). So, when approached by Polk to review a speaker from their affordable RTi A series, I was interested in the least expensive of that line's five models: the RTi A1 ($349.95/pair).
A while back, out of the blue, I was contacted by audio distributor May Audio Marketing. They wanted to know if I was interested in reviewing any models from the Genius line of German manufacturer ASW Loudspeakers. I have a lot of time for distributors such as May Audio, whose primary role is to promote lesser-known European audio products on this side of the pond. All of May's principal clientsCastle, Enigma, and Gradient speakers; Sonneteer and Sphinx electronics; and Roksan turntable systemsare much better known in their home countries than in the US.